Children's Environmental Health Research Center at Illinois

Researching the impact of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates on child development

About The Center


The goal of this research center is to study the effects of exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates—chemicals that are widely used in plastics and personal care products—on human development. Because both chemicals disrupt steroid hormone action, research in the Center is focused on steroid hormone-mediated aspects of development including gonad development and sexually dimorphic aspects of brain development and behavior. Exposures during two critical developmental windows – the prenatal period and the adolescent/pubertal period – are being studied in human populations and in parallel animal models.

Project 1 assesses the impact of prenatal exposure to BPA and phthalates and complements Project 2 which assesses exposure during adolescence. Steroid hormones play an organizing role in brain development during both the prenatal and adolescent periods, and exposure to these chemicals at either time could interfere with sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior. Projects 3 and 4 are animal studies that are useful for interpreting results from the human studies. Project 3 utilizes transgenic and knockout mice to study the mechanisms through which prenatal BPA and phthalate exposures affect male and female gonad development. Project 4 assesses the impact of BPA exposure in the womb or during adolescence on spatial learning and on neuron numbers in cortical brain areas of male and female rats. These studies will provide insight into underlying changes that may mediate effects in infants or adolescents.

Goals of the Center

Project 1: Establish a prospective birth cohort to assess the relationship between prenatal exposure to BPA and phthalates and physical and cognitive development.

Project 2: Evaluate the association between adolescent exposure to BPA and phthalates and measures of cognitive and neurobehavioral development during adolescence.

Project 3:Examine the mechanism of BPA and phthalate action on fetal gonadal development in genetic mouse models.

Project 4: Evaluate the impact of exposure to BPA prenatally or during adolescence on brain structure and function in a rat model.